By Mike Steffanos
I was going to try to give my mangled right hand one more day off, but the Mets signing of Gary Sheffield is something to which I just had to contribute my two cents.
I have my concerns about this signing, but not for the reason that many media types have jumped on, that Sheffield is some sort of clubhouse cancer. The truth is that he is a guy that plays hard every day and gets along with his fellow players. He doesn't always get along with the press, GMs or club owners, and he doesn't always leave a city on a positive note, but I have no real worry of Sheffield fomenting dissent in the clubhouse.
The problem to my mind is simply that I don't think of Gary Sheffield as a viable contributor to a National League team at this stage of his career. He's spent two seasons as almost exclusively a DH, battling health issues and a decline of all his skills.
The idea that he can go back to being an outfielder on any regular basis, particularly in a challenging ballpark for OF like Citi Field just seems extremely unlikely to me. On the other hand, the thought that a guy who has been a full-time player for two decades could successfully step into some sort of pinch-hitting role with limited starts seems equally improbable.
What I really worry about with Sheffield is that the Mets will try to ask more from Sheffield than he has left in him, stubbornly trying to "get him going" at the expense of the players that they were counting on before Sheffield became available.
If efforts to get Sheffield going inhibit getting key players like Ryan Church, Daniel Murphy and even Fernando Tatis in a groove, and then Sheffield comes up lacking, this whole thing could backfire.
Even if Sheffield is able to produce at a level closer to his lifetime offensive output this season than he was in 2008, even if he can get into good enough shape to play a credible outfield, just how long before he goes the way of El Duque and Moises Alou and injures himself? The odds of this thing playing out in a way that really helps the Mets in 2009 just don't look like a good bet to me.
I understand that the Mets could use some right-handed power on their bench, and that the major league minimum salary that they have to pay Sheffield represents little financial risk.
There is some logic to this signing, but I think that Jerry Manuel and the front office will need to manage this whole situation with a subtlety and delicate touch that we haven't seen from this club often over the years. Lacking that, the potential for this hindering the club rather than improving it looms large.
I hope that Sheffield proves me wrong and has a great season. I'm only too happy to chow down on some crow when something goes right for this club that I didn't foresee. I have a feeling, though, that the best-case scenario is that Sheffield proves that he just doesn't have it any more and fades quickly and quietly into memory.